Lymph Nodes and Neck Pain

The lymphatic system is responsible for making and storing antibodies to fight off infectious germs and bacteria that invade the body. There are numerous lymph nodes around the body, with a high concentration in the neck, groin, and axilla (armpits). Lymph node usually only become noticeable when an infection is present and they become swollen, even if the infection is quite minor and has no particular symptoms.

Recommended Swollen Lymph Node Remedies.

Node in the Neck

Lymph nodes are on either side of the front and back of the neck, under the jaw, under the chin, behind the ears, and over the back of the head. Each lymph node shares the same function of fighting infections and catching malignant tumour cells.

Lymph Node Problems

Sometimes an infection can occur in the lymph node itself; this is called lymphadenitis and is usually a result of an infection that originated near a lymph node. Those who have had a coronary artery bypass using a leg vein may experience this as htere is accompanying lymphatic tissue transferred during this procedure which can lower immunity to infection.

If there are painful, red striations just below the surface of the skin then this could be a case of acute lymphangitis: this type of neck pain is caused by a bacterial infection of the lymph nodes. Lymphangitis can spread quickly, and may be fatal if it enters the bloodstream.

Changes in Size of Lymph Nodes

lymph nodes and neck pain

Lymph nodes often change in size and firmness, depending on the presence and severity of infection. Lymph nodes do not normally become bigger than 2cm/1inch, and are not usually the cause of severe, debilitating pain. Some physyicians suggest that lymph nodes should be considered abnormal if they are larger than 1cm, or even 0.5cm (Fijten, 1988, Libman, 1987).

If a lump is felt and does not go back down after a few days, or after the infection has gone then it may not be a lymph node. Instead, this may be a cyst, or possibly a tumour, and should be checked by a healthcare professional. An inflamed thyroid gland is also a possible cause of neck pain and swelling, usually centralized at the front of the neck. A physical examination by a doctor should be able to discern the cause of the swelling.

Acute Swelling vs. Gradual Enlargement

As a general rule, a sudden onset of swelling is usually the result of infection or trauma. If swelling is gradual and painless then this may indicate malignancy/tumour. As there are so many important structures in the neck, it is important to not take risks, and medical advice should be sought as soon as possible.


The Lymphatic System in Adolescence and Childhood

Children’s immune systems are generally more active and, in some cases, hyperactive, than in adulthood. This is due to their bodies being exposed to a whole host of new antigens on a daily basis. Lumps and bumps in the armpits, groin, and the neck are fairly common but do not usually last more than two weeks, even in the presence of a clear infection like a cold or flu. If a lump continues to grow or does not dissipate after this time then further advice should be sought as it may indicate something more serious.

Specific diseases, common in childhood, such as mumps and rubella cause inflammation in particular places in the head, in the former the disease leads to swelling behind the ears, in the latter the salivary glands become inflamed.

When to Call the Doctor

For any lumps and bumps that have no clear and previously investigated etiology, it is important to seek medical advice. This is particularly important if the glands are red and swollen, growing rapidly and appear to be fixed to the skin. Lymph nodes and neck pain harboring malignancy are usually fixed to the underlying tissue, and are non-tender. If fever, night sweats, weight loss, and fatigue are present then professional help should be sought.

Recommended Swollen Lymph Node Remedies.

Neck pain can sometimes occur with inflamed lymph nodes as a result of holding the head awkwardly, or altering sleeping position to avoid putting pressure on the inflamed nodes. Each lymph node collects and filters lymphatic fluid from a particular area, providing a reference point for a doctor to diagnose the site of infection in the absence of exterior signs. For example, the submental lymph node drains the area of the lower lip, floor of the mouth, submental salivary gland, tip of the tongue and the skin of the cheek. certain viruses are indicated in infections of these areas, such as toxoplasmosis. Inflammation of this lymph node can also indicate the presence of dental problems, such as perdiontitis.


Fijten, G.H., Blijham, G.H., (1988), Unexplained lymphadenopathy in family practice. An evaluation of the probability of malignant causes and the effectiveness of physicians’ workup, J. Fam. Pract., Vol.27, pp.373-6.

Libman, H., (1987), Generalized lymphadenopathy, J. Gen. Intern. Med., Vol.2, pp.48-58.